Last year, we took a look at the Beta of NHL17. This year? We get to play with the whole game, baby. And all the features therin. Let’s dive in and go through some of my thoughts while playing the game over this weekend and my final assessment on it.
1. NHL Threes is an absolute blast.
3-on-3 is probably how hockey is going to be played in the deep distant future. It won’t be ten years from now, or maybe even twenty, but with the way this is set up in-game? This is probably the best way to sell it to people. An ostentatious presentation with a graphic laid on the ice and pyro whenever the puck hits the back of the net. There are house rules, a coin toss, less ice and yet somehow more, and puck that could cause tremendous Threes screams “We know exactly what this mode is and what a mockery of your idea of defense it is and we do not care. Have some fun, old man.”
What surprised me about Threes to begin with was versatility. This mode can do a lot to make it easier on you or harder on you, if you so desire. Just wanna go and play an unlock-a-thon campaign? You can go ahead and do that. Get online with your buds and play to 6 goals over and over online? Have friends over and a second controller? Want a random puck that either saps a point off the board and gains you one or a puck that gives you three points? NHL Threes has you. It has you for all of that. This game mode is chaos incarnate.
And it is so much fun. I had an absolute ball playing this mode in all it’s myriad forms and playing with all it’s settings and nonsense that you can add to this mode. It’s total commitment to not being a simulation and just being hockey with the volume knob turned up is something commendable in and of itself.
This mode should, and is probably going to be a mainstay of future NHL games. Count on it.
2. Expansion mode takes “Create a Team” to a whole new level.
Because the Vegas Golden Knights now exist, you get the opportunity to take the concepts that returned in “Create a Team” and apply it to making a brand new NHL team! You can put them in a load of places, some of whom don’t even make sense (and given the way naming works in the game, you have the option to put them in places that don’t even exist, such as La Chaux De Fonds, Nebraska.)
Getting a team that can actually do stuff is, depending on if you’re above pro difficulty, just as hard as it is in real life...I can imagine. However, since the game takes the Free Agency list from before a lot of players got signed...you do have a pretty solid group you can choose from to populate your team once you’ve gone through the expansion draft. Keep that in mind once you start putting teams in the weirdest places you can imagine.
3. Little things make previous modes much easier to play with buddies.
Look, the NHL franchise is a mainstay in many dorm rooms across the country (and the country above ours), and the last few modes to be co-op were just “Play Now” and occasionally online. Now, Hockey Ultimate Team and NHL Threes get Co-op and have no doubt made late nights of drinking (by those of age and in moderation, I assure you) have options. And that’s a good thing.
Granted, once again my ping for these matches when I did this online was just around somewhere between the surface of Mars and Caribou, Maine, so I suggest trying it out online play with a buddy on your own time.
4. Why wasn’t this in here before?
A lot of modes in this game received only minor tweaks, but man some of them made a world of difference in gameplay...leaving me wonder why they were left out in the first place. It really does feel like that the series is trying to make up for NHL 15 and 16’s total lack of content.
Example: In Be a Pro last year, your player couldn’t request a trade. Ever. If you were stuck with the Flyers, you were stuck there. It’s the simplest thing in the world and you’d think it was something they’d have had already had in the mode but...it wasn’t there. It was kind of odd. 18 fixes this...but it feels like fixing a huge oversight.
Same thing with challenges added to Hockey Ultimate Team. Wouldn’t it be something that should’ve already been in this game? It just feels like fixing the one dimensional nature of a mode with more unlocking of stuff.
One major positive in this category is the poke check fix. You are in charge of where the stick is in your poke checking, effectively giving you control of a player stick no matter what. Last year, the game’s effective way of defending was the poke check, as it was almost impossible to mess up without spamming it, meaning you actually have to be smart about how you defend for once, which, given how well the game handles that, it finally feels like the game is getting the eccentricities of NHL hockey.
5. “Be a Pro” or NHL Threes really needs a story to it.
It’s becoming more prevalent in sports games that while yes, fans are absolutely buying these games for their love of the sport, online play, and for coming up with horrifying creatures and teams to make for websites, an increasing number are showing up because of one thing: stories. The NBA2k series added one and haven’t looked back, The Madden and FIFA series added the “Longshot” and “Journey” storylines to great success in their recent installments, and will likely end up doing so again next year. For the NHL series to not have one feels like a gigantic missed opportunity, given how hard players in the real world work to make it to into the NHL and all the myriad paths one can take to get there.
This is especially a huge problem because the Threes idea, especially it’s campaign mode, seems to be begging for a corny, “come from behind losers” narrative complete with Emilio Estevez narration. It begs for some looking into the world in which this version of hockey exists. I want to know more. And NHL 18 doesn’t give it to me.
6. Small Stuff I didn’t know I needed but I’m glad it’s in there
- You can get penalties drawn for you and against you much more obviously than you did in the last game. Makes a lot of the ordinary defending strategies a lot harder but a lot fairer in the long run.
- The UI is much improved from previous games, flowing a lot easier and faster than the last few years. Loading game modes is a lot faster too.
- Lower-tier European teams and Champions Hockey League teams have entered the fray. While obviously not everyone is going to use this content, it’s nice to know it’s they’re being included and you can pull from interesting places.
- You haven’t lived until you’ve made an entire threes team out of NHL Mascots.
- Semi-customizable menus is a nice addition that more games of this nature ought to implement.
- If I knew how to play the game already, I didn’t need a tutorial done by members of Team Canada. Even if you worked hard on it, that’s info I don’t need.
- The ability to make mascots in Expansion Mode/Create a team.
NHL 18 as a whole doesn’t innovate much, just tweak. Where it does add is in creating a mode that is a hugely unique and fun idea that fans should absolutely give a try and will be a staple of the series. The little additions help create a much more interesting and nuanced video game hockey experience, but the lack of a more engaging Be a Pro mode does disappoint. That said, like most of these games, there is nothing mechanically or graphically wrong with the game, so for those looking for a good virtual impression of NHL hockey, you’ve come to the right place. I say give it a shot.
Editorial Note: Our Copy of NHL 18 was played on Xbox One, provided by EA Vancouver, with the majority of modes being played for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.